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Cancer Health Center

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Are Cell Phones Safe? Questions & Answers

University of Pittsburgh Cancer Expert Urges Limited Use; Get Answers to Questions About Cell Phone Safety

What does the American Cancer Society say?

Michael Thun, MD, is the American Cancer Society's vice president for epidemiology and surveillance research.

"The first thing we say is that if someone is concerned about the risk of cell phones, you can virtually eliminate your exposure by using a headset or a speaker phone or having the phone farther from your ear," Thun tells WebMD.

"With respect to the science ... we, and the epidemiologists who I respect who are involved in this, find the evidence to be much, much weaker than it's being presented by some proponents," says Thun, noting that cell phone emissions are "not ionizing radiation that damages DNA" and that of the 17 studies on cell phone use and brain cancer, only two have suggested an association, and those studies' methodologies are "weaker than some of the larger, better studies."

Thun points out that in Sweden, one of the countries where cell phones caught on early, up to 25 years of data show no signs of increased brain cancer rates. He also says that the American Cancer Society is "seriously considering" convening an independent group of scientists to look at the epidemiologic data.

But Thun notes that cell phones are widely used and that "the evidence is quite extensive, but incomplete in important ways." For instance, he says more studies are needed on the long-term effects of children's cell phone use.

"On the one hand, it's important to be prudent and have an appropriate level of caution, and on the other hand, it's important not to sound false alarms, because they, too, have unintended consequences. If you sound too many of them, nobody believes anything you say, and if there is not a problem, they distract attention away from real problems, of which we have a lot."

What does the American Academy of Pediatrics say?

Paul Fisher, MD, MHS, leads the American Academy of Pediatrics' committee on neurology. He's also an associate professor of neurology at Stanford University and the Beirne family medical director of the Center for Children's Brain Tumors at the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford.

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